Carly Brooke Feinman, a Chappaqua native and Greeley alum, is making a splash in the theatre world just two years after graduating Wesleyan University. This past summer, her original musical co-written with Cassie Wilson, If Sand Were Stone, made its Off-Broadway debut as part of the New York Music Festival. As if that wasn’t enough, her play Reflux was selected to premier Off-Broadway a few weeks later as part of the Broadway-Bound Theatre Festival.
Feinman loved growing up in Chappaqua. She always enjoyed poetry and writing and assumed that would lead her to a career in journalism or poetry. Her favorite teacher at Greeley was her creative writing teacher, Mrs. Chadwick. She “was the first teacher to really take interest in me and encouraged me to continue writing. I’m so grateful for her,” Feinman says.
Feinman’s road to musical theatre began when she took a class in college with the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote In the Heights with Lin Manuel Miranda. “She changed everything for me… She is an epic human and one of my dearest friends and mentors. She showed me that the things I love about poetry and the fun language gymnastics I get to do really do lend themselves to theatre. She pushed me to dig deeper and take more classes and I found that I loved it,” recalls Feinman.
It was in Hudes’ musical theatre class where Feinman was paired together with Wilson for an assignment. They immediately clicked and became great friends and collaborators. “To find someone that you want to work with for the rest of your career is such a gift to receive at a young age. We’ve been working on the musical for two and a half years. There will be future iterations of it and it’s more fulfilling every time we touch it,” says Feinman.
If Sand Were Stone is a musical that follows a poet as she and her family grapple with her early onset Alzheimer’s Disease at the peak of her career. It’s based on a true story about Wilson’s grandmother. Despite the sad subject, there is joy to be found in the moments on stage between family members. In preparation for writing this musical, Feinman and Wilson volunteered at an assisted living facility for memory care. “Just as many times as we would leave crying, we would leave laughing. Where there’s sadness, there’s joy. That’s a fundamental belief of ours,” says Feinman.
Feinman is proud of the fact that the musical’s creative team was all female, under 25, and included women of color. “Cassie and I are from very lucky backgrounds, we are hyper aware of the advantages we’ve had, and we have no interest in doing anything besides trying our best to be inclusive and to use what we’ve been given and share,” she explains.
Her other production this past summer, Reflux, is an absurdist comedy in a dystopian world where a man and woman are paired together randomly, and sent by boat to navigate the ocean to the honeymoon island where they must have sex. They try to figure out what sex and marriage is and how it fits into society’s expectations spoonfed to them since birth.
In Reflux, the couple is played by two gender non-conforming people of color. “We have all seen the man-woman romantic comedy and I was really interested in disrupting that whole Adam and Eve archetype… I’m interested in centering historically marginalized places and including people who have historically been disenfranchised by the institution of theatre. That’s not something that I’m looking for applause for. I just think it needs to be more of the norm,” says Feinman. Generally, she is drawn to art that disrupts and is different than anything she has seen previously. She was greatly inspired by the musicals Hamilton, In the Heights and Fun Home.
Feinman is not afraid of laying bare her creative work. “I don’t think you could fail if you try. This summer, if both of the shows were flops, that wouldn’t have been a failure to me. The failure would’ve been chickening out and saying that it would be too much to do in one summer,” she contends.
Feinman is living her dream career. “I’ve only ever wanted to be a writer. To be a songwriter was one of my early goals as a young girl but I don’t know how to play any instruments. In writing musicals, I’ve been able to call myself a songwriter. I’ve always wanted to be a poet and in writing plays, I’ve been able to do that. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with artists I admire and I’m getting to do that now. I’m so happy,” she concludes.